If Eddie Murray made it look easy, then he can add illusionist to his long list of baseball skills.
There was nothing simple about the way he approached hitting. Lesser batsmen may insist that it comes down to one fundamental equation - see the ball, hit the ball - but Murray earned his plaque in Cooperstown by seeing each pitch before it was thrown.
"He was as prepared a hitter as I've ever seen," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, who played against Murray for years and also managed him when both were with the Cleveland Indians. "He studied what the pitchers did to hitters ahead of him and what they did to hitters comparable to him. He wasn't always right, but he was right more often than other people were.
"I can't remember a time when I managed Eddie when he wasn't fully physically and mentally prepared to hit."
The numbers certainly bear that out. Murray is one of only three hitters in major league history to amass more than 500 home runs and 3,000 hits (Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are the others). He might be the greatest switch-hitter to play the game - the cumulative numbers make that case - though you could say the same about a guy named Mickey Mantle.
What's certain is that Murray was one of the great students of the game ... and a pretty good teacher. He studied hitting and pitchers, and he always had a plan at the plate, even during batting practice.
It was a matter of desire, Murray said. Asked what was behind his preparation, Murray said: "Wanting to be good."
He was just as capable of delivering a big home run or a key hit from the right side or the left, and that was no accident, either.
"The thing about switch-hitting is that it takes twice as much work," said former Orioles teammate Ken Singleton, who also swung the bat from both sides of the plate. "You see many more right-handed pitchers, so you can go a week without facing a lefty. Then you'd face a Ron Guidry or some other guy who was one of the best left-handers in the league.
"So you have to continue to practice. You've got to take at least one round of batting practice [each way] every day."
Murray never shied away from the work, and there is little question that it paid off. He holds the major league record with 11 games in which he hit a home run from each side of the plate. He also amazed his teammates with his consistency either way.
"For a long time in his career, up to the point where he left the Orioles the first time, his average was almost the same right or left," said Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks. "You'd look at the numbers and say, 'Damn, there's a reason why they call him 'Steady Eddie.' "
He is the only player in major league history to drive in 75 runs or more for 20 consecutive seasons, and his 1,917 RBIs rank seventh on baseball's all-time list.
Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver obviously saw something special when he decided to keep Murray, then 21, at the major league level for the 1977 season, but his talent was not evident to everyone who saw him in spring training.
"I remember pitching batting practice to him in spring training," said Hall of Famer Jim Palmer. "My first impression was that he was a much better hitter from the right side and that there was no way that he would hit in the big leagues. Then the games started.
"He never looked good in BP, but there was always a method to his madness."
The swing was a combination of natural ability, outstanding mechanics and mental discipline.
"When you talk about good hitters, everybody talks about staying back," Palmer said. "He had great balance, so he was not as susceptible to the breaking pitch. He was able to load [stay back in his crouch] with the best of them, and he had great weight transfer."
His impact on the Orioles was immediate. Murray had 27 home runs and 88 RBIs in 1977 and was named American League Rookie of the Year.
"He was aggressive," said New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, who saw Murray as a California Angels broadcaster in the 1980s and as St. Louis Cardinals manager in the early 1990s. "He didn't go up there to take [pitches]. If you didn't pitch him perfectly, he hit a home run. The thing that stands out ... he never tried to pull the ball. He could hit the ball out of any part of the park."
Murray's ability to drive in big runs from both sides of the plate made him the perfect hitter at the heart of the Orioles order. Weaver's affinity for the three-run homer was well-known, and having Singleton and Murray switch-hitting back-to-back gave him that potential, keeping opposing managers from matching up relievers against them in the late innings.
Singleton remembers former Angels manager Jim Fregosi telling him how difficult it was managing against the Orioles in the late 1970s because of the flexibility of the lineup.
"Fregosi told me when he managed against the Orioles, it didn't matter what you did," Singleton said. "If you [made a pitching move to get John] Lowenstein out, [Gary] Roenicke came up, and then ... you got me and Eddie."
Murray quickly established himself as one of the top run producers in the game and led the Orioles into the World Series in just his third big league season. It didn't matter who pitched against him, he probably had a pretty good idea of what he was up against.
"I pitched against him in both leagues, and he was a tough out for me because he combined the ability to hurt you with the home run with the ability to shorten his swing and do whatever it took to get a base hit," said Bud Black, now the Angels' pitching coach. "There aren't many hitters who can do that."
Hendricks' favorite Murray moment came in the 1983 World Series. Murray had not been a major offensive factor in the first four games, but he was lying in wait for Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Charles Hudson in the decisive Game 5.
"Hudson had gotten him out in [Game 2]," Hendricks said. "Eddie told me, 'I hope that boy tries to pitch me the same way he pitched me the first time.' He did, and Eddie hit a home run. The second time, he hit one even farther."
Indeed, Murray's launched a long home run in his first at-bat of Game 5. In his second at-bat, he hit a mammoth drive to right-center field that hit the scoreboard below the upper deck at Veterans Stadium.
Murray's numbers were amazingly consistent. He averaged 25 home runs and 95 RBIs over his first 20 seasons and almost certainly would have flirted with 2,000 RBIs if three of those seasons (1981, 1994 and 1995) had not lost games to labor trouble.
"Eddie had that combination of talent, skill and preparation," said Phil Bradley, a former Orioles outfielder who played for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-1980s. He knew all of the little things. He was a big student of the game, and he was willing to share it if you asked him. He was one of two or three people I played against who had a big impact on me."
Hendricks remembers only one other player who might have been as good as Murray at divining what an opposing pitcher was going to throw at him, and Murray no doubt wouldn't mind the comparison.
"The only other player who studied pitchers and retained it like that was Frank Robinson," Hendricks said.
Murray seems almost sheepish when his name is mentioned with the likes of Aaron, Mays and Robinson, but the numbers don't lie. He clearly deserves to join them in the Hall of Fame this weekend.
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